Keeping Connected While Staying Apart

AzGT Member Cooperatives Post Videos of Annual Meetings  
to Maintain Social Distancing During COVID-19 Pandemic

The signature event for almost any electric cooperative is its annual meeting. Unlike in investor-owned utilities, cooperative consumer-members get a voice in how their utility runs and can meet the people making the decisions at the annual meeting. They usually even have the chance to walk up to a director, general manager or CEO and shake hands. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed that right now.

Kassi Mortensen, administrative specialist (l), runs the camera while Duncan Valley Electric Cooperative Board President Johnnie Frie delivers his opening remarks during the cooperative’s “video-recorded annual meeting” April 22. In the background, DVEC CEO Steve Lunt runs a teleprompter from a laptop.

“While we certainly look forward to our annual meeting and the opportunity to visit face to face with our members, we hope our members understand the serious nature of the pandemic and our desire to keep everyone safe,” said Steve Lunt, CEO of Duncan Valley Electric Cooperative (DVEC), which held its scheduled annual meeting on Wednesday, April 22, with only Lunt and board president Johnnie Frie recording a video of their presentations for members to watch.

“Since we do not conduct any official business at our annual meeting, our meetings have been and will continue to be informational in nature,” Lunt explained. Bylaw changes and director elections are conducted through mail-in ballots, and a question to approve the minutes of last year’s meeting was included. Members who voted were also entered into the annual meeting raffle.

DVEC CEO Steve Lunt delivers his remarks during the cooperative’s “video-recorded annual meeting” April 22. DVEC Board President Johnnie Frie runs the teleprompter from a laptop computer while Kassi Mortensen operates the camera. The teleprompter screen hangs on the wall directly behind Mortensen.

The next day, Thursday, April 23, Sulphur Springs Valley Electric Cooperative held its annual meeting in Benson at the high school gymnasium. But instead of hosting a room full of hundreds of people, that meeting was also recorded on video and posted on the cooperative’s website. Its members already voted by mail in the director elections. All members were entered into the raffle for bill credits and a pickup truck.

“We would prefer to have had our normal meeting, but obviously could not.  So we determined a way to limit the people and still conduct the business meeting,” explained Jack Blair, SSVEC chief member services officer. The entire Benson High School gym had only seven people: Blair; Creden Huber, SSVEC CEO; Dan Barrera, board president; Tom Goodman, board secretary; Chris Hickock, board attorney; Geoff Oldfather, communications and public relations manager for Arizona Generation and Transmission Cooperatives (AzGT); and J.D. Wallace, AzGT communications, social media and marketing administrator. Oldfather and Wallace were there to video record the meeting so that SSVEC could post it online for its members.

(l-r) J.D. Wallace, AzGT communications, social media and marketing administrator, operates the camera and records the SSVEC annual meeting the evening of April 23 at the Benson High School gymnasium, while SSVEC directors Tom Goodman and Dan Barrera (at podiums) conduct the meeting.

“The two board members will conduct the minimal amount of business required, such as approving the agenda and accepting the minutes from last year,” Blair explained before the meeting was held. “The video, along with the other documents, including the list of scholarship winners and the Board President and CEO presentations, will be available on our website.  We will also provide a link for members to email us questions.”

Both cooperatives began looking at their options in March, when the pandemic began to change how people could or should meet in large groups. And while SSVEC could have waited until May or June to hold the meeting, Blair explained that the uncertainty of the coming months only made keeping the April meeting date as the best option.

“At one point we were going to have the annual meeting with no members and use Facebook Live and record it, but that was too many people involved in the process.  Then we considered recording the meeting in advance, but when gatherings became more limited, we decided on our last option, which we are using,” he said. “The most important decision we made was to follow CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and state guidelines to protect the health and safety of our members and employees.”

Whether this pandemic will change the future of meetings is a question on many people’s minds. For SSVEC and DVEC, the goal right now is to deliver a responsible, accountable process to their members under the current circumstances.

“I’m not sure if this will impact future annual meetings. I think our small town environment is conducive to public meetings. We like to get together and visit so we will probably go back to our old format,” Lunt said. “This pandemic situation has certainly proven that we are adaptable and that we can still meet our members’ needs in the face of challenges.”